I was pretty busy on the weekend, with a “trio” of plays to see and “review.”

Dodging the rainstorms… I raced from NoHo to Hollywood, to Santa Monica.

Ethel Merman’s Broadway

Rita McKenzie as Ethel Merman in “Ethel Merman’s Broadway.“

There’s a rousing party going on in town, and you’re invited… RSVP today! For four decades, Ethel Merman was the queen of Broadway stage… having also starred in many TV and film roles, with an impressive array of leading actors of the day. Rita McKenzie, “a bundle of dynamite,” takes us on a factual and entertaining journey of Ethel’s life and times. From her early career history to her marriages and infamous “showbiz” and political friends… to her road to international fame, we become voyeuristically mesmerized. This dynamic “dish,” with a booming voice and bawdy true stories, has been recreating the life and music of Merman for over 20 years. From New York to Atlantic City, L.A., Vegas and Japan… (and countless other places), she has “channeled” the royal reign of one of the industry’s original divas… and audiences love her! With hilarious charm, colorful tales, eye-popping costumes and a gigantic voice… her depiction defies belief! Singing the wonderful songs of history’s most beloved and successful songwriters (with revealingly juicy patter in between), you’ll likely know all of these classic songs. Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Jerry Herman, the Gershwins, Jule Styne, Stephen Sondheim and others… are celebrated in the two dozen songs she “belts out!” This lively show, written by Rita and Christopher Powich (who also directs the production), with Musical Director David Snyder’s onstage band “driving the pulse,” and the choreography of Randy Slovacek… is top notch and a ton of fun! I especially enjoyed Act Two, where Rita interacted with the audience in some riotous moments! The sparklingly gorgeous array of costumes by Eric Winterling, and “quick changes” by Rita, are amazing! The star-studded audience on opening night was a “show” all by itself. Wow! Added bonus: A special guest… Opening the show, it was a joy to witness the perky humor of Golden Years star, Mitzi Gaynor! If you are a die-hard Merman fan, you must be quick to catch this show before it heads to N.Y. for a Broadway run. You can still go this Thursday through Sunday (it closes Feb. 27th) at the El Portal Mainstage Theatre – 5269 Lankershim Blvd. in North Hollywood. For seats, call (818) 508-4200.

Locked and Loaded

From l, Sandra Thigpen, Paul Linke, Teresa Sciortino and Andrew Parks in “Locked and Loaded.”

A brilliantly brain-teasing R-rated adult comedy, loaded with tantalizing twists and turns… this is a must-see on your “to do” list! Billed as a “ribald burlesque of mortality” and written with an “other-worldly vibe” by successful veteran actor Todd Susman… Surprisingly, this is his first commercially-produced play. His flair for words, humor and “unknown possibilities” inspires hope that he’ll write another one soon! Director Chris DeCarlo powerfully guides his excellently chosen cast with cutting-edge class, evoking a quartet of quirky and fine-tuned performances. A “trippy” case of The Twilight Zone meets One Step Beyond… loaded with snappy dialogue and unexpected occurrences… we were caught up in a maze of delectable madness throughout! The play opens in a hotel room, where two men in tuxedos (polar opposites) have agreed to a two-way suicide. One, a sitcom comedy writer (a hilarious Paul Linke), the other an emotionally empty zillionaire (a compelling Andrew Parks), spend their final hours together. When two gorgeous “call girls” turn up at their door… the freaky fun begins! Catorce, a sweet Latina bombshell with a “heart of gold” (a delightful Terasa Sciortino), and Princess Lay-ya, a hot-blooded, sexy and tough black woman (a dynamite performance by Sandra Thigpen), offer much more than mere sexual favors to these lonely men. All four of them have predestined reasons for being in this room together… but to reveal any more would spoil your fun! I could rave on for days about this play… but to give away any of the plot surprises and twists would be a crime. At one point, Lay-ya says, “You’re caught between a rock and a thin place.” I asked the author later what that phrase meant. He told me… “In Irish folklore, ‘That’s a place where Heaven and earth overlap.’” This is a flawless production in my opinion! Kudos to James Cooper for a wonderful set design, and Ashley Hayes for her costume vision! You must try to catch this one! Running through April 16th at the Santa Monica Playhouse – 1211 4th St. in Santa Monica. For seats, call (310) 394-9779 ext. 1.

The Violet Hour

Karole Foreman, Travis Schuldt, Lisa Valerie Morgan, Peter Larney and Buck Zachary star in “The Violet Hour,” written by Richard Greenberg and directed by Darin Anthony.

This darkly complex and mentally challenging story takes place in a Manhattan tower publishing office. Written by Richard Greenberg, from some offbeat corner of his psyche… this is no less than a mindbender! On an impressive and cleverly cluttered set (by Joel Daavid) and abundant with appealing 1900s costumes (by Shon Le Blanc), we are drawn into the complicated issues of five characters whose lives intertwine. Directed by Darin Anthony with suspenseful skill, we take a brain-boggling trip into uncharted territory. If we could foretell the future… would we be able to change destiny? We are in the untidy office of John Pace Seavering, a young fledgling book publisher, learning the ropes of the business (a strong performance by Travis Schuldt). With enough start-up money to publish only one author’s book, he must make a difficult choice. Should he go with the book “pitch,” written by his old college buddy Denis (a cocky Peter Larney) or the memoirs of his beautiful Ethiopian secret mistress, Jessie? (A classy and sassy Karole Foreman.) When John’s flustered assistant Gidger (a frantic and focused Buck Zachary) receives a large and mysterious machine at the office… the plot thickens. Incessantly “ticking” and spewing endless pages of futuristic information… it is dauntingly frightening. Rosamund, Denis’s rich and spoiled fiancée (Lisa Valerie Morgan) tries to sway John’s book choice so that her wealthy father will permit them to marry. Effective lighting by Luke Moyer sets the tone perfectly. Beyond that summarized “storyline synopsis,” I must admit… I was lost! I just couldn’t wrap my head around the play’s meaning. My theatre guest, a fine actress, director and longtime stage theatre owner, was equally befuddled! Although we enjoyed the puzzling journey for the most part… we left quite confused. Sorry… maybe you will be more able to decipher the many-faceted plot. Running through March 13th at The Lillian Theatre – 6322 Santa Monica Blvd. in Hollywood (around the corner…). For seats, call (323) 960-1054.

Whew! That’s enough “opinionating” for this week. See ya’ soon…


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